I saw 'The Amazing Spider-Man' over the weekend, and in addition to enjoying outstanding performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, I was once again struck by the reality that almost anything you can imagine can be put on film. The CGI effects in the latest entry in the Spider-Man canon was leagues ahead of what was groundbreaking in the first film, a scant decade ago.
Thinking about 'Spider-Man' made me think back to the days when there was no hi-def television, no CGI, no remote control, not even stereo speakers in movie theaters! The idea of a superhero being convincingly portrayed on the big screen was at the time, a pipe dream. But the Hollywood Dream Factory made due: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery were in their day, the equivalent of a comic book superhero. These guys were big, strong, fearless and nearly invulnerable on your neighborhood movie screen. But there was another guy who during his time, brought a unique persona to the film industry.
For me, Jim Brown was the first superhero. Built like Superman, smart and near silent like Batman, fast like the Flash and tough like The Hulk, Jim Brown did it all for real on the football field. In a nine season, record breaking career, Brown's herculean achievements keep him constantly in any conversation that revolves around who is the greatest football player ever. And more often than not, his name is placed at the top, with almost unanimous agreement.
While Brown didn't have a secret identity, he did have a relatively little known alias. As a college student at Syracuse, Brown distinguished himself on the Lacrosse field and is also considered the greatest to ever play that sport too.
But towards the end of his football career, Brown began a segue to Hollywood, starting as a co-star in 'Rio Conchos' with Richard Boone and Stuart Whitman, becoming a significant player in the star studded 'Dirty Dozen' and ultimately leading spectacular casts like Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Julie Harris, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch and many more in big studio movies like 'The Split', 'Riot' and '100 Rifles'.
There had never been a movie star like Jim Brown before. At the time, Sidney Poitier was the only Black actor whose name could greenlight a film, and unfortunately, he was generally cast as the understanding, non-aggressive Negro, whose sex appeal was turned down to zero and whose physicality was rarely an issue in his films.
When Brown hit the scene, he was burly, manly, violent, confident and clearly sexual. The love scene with Raquel Welch in '100 Rifles' is still talked about today for its carnal energy, heretofore never before seen onscreen between a Black man and a White woman.
When the Blaxploitation craze hit in the seventies, Jim Brown had a hand in several of the more popular films of the genre', starring as 'Slaughter' in two films, as well as a series of non related films co-starring Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly. While Jim did fine in these films, to me, they always felt too small for the persona that he had built up as both a sports legend and a mainstream movie star. But the posters were classics!
In addition to film work, Jim continued to be a proponent for self-reliance via his 'Amer-I-Can' program and did tireless work on behalf of minority businessmen, working with incarcerated men of all ages and offering himself up as a conduit to encourage peace between volatile gang members of Los Angeles.
Over the last thirty years, Jim Brown has been seen occassionally doing interesting character work in films like Oliver Stone's 'Any Given Sunday', James Toback's 'Fingers' and Spike Lee's 'He Got Game' and 'She Hate Me'. Spike also made a documentary on the Hall of Famer: 'Jim Brown- All American'.
Often seen as controversial and outspoken, Jim Brown is a man who speaks his mind, and walks the walk. Watching any of his films onscreen, you never for a moment doubt that you are watching a man who would probably chuckle at Kryptonite if it ever came his way.
Full disclosure: I grew up in Cleveland and was a little kid when Jim Brown played for the Browns, but even at a young age, I knew of his legend. Arriving in Los Angeles years later to launch a new radio station, Jim was the person who helped get us safe passage in Compton, Watts and other neighborhoods, by gathering members of the Crips, Bloods and Fruit of Islam in his living room to explain to them why they should be supportive of what I was trying to do at the radio station.
He also let me have my wedding reception on his terrace and was kind of enough to spend a good amount of time with my father, a former entrepreneur from Cleveland, who benefited from Jim's work with minority businessmen of the day. Jim has always been a great supporter and even though we don't see each other often, when we do, it's always special for me. So I can't be biased about Jim, but I don't think I have to. His work and life speak for itself.
Here's a snapshot of his football career and trailers of a few of my favorite JB movies.
Jim Brown Runs!
The Split trailer
The Dirty Dozen trailer
Three the Hard Way trailer
He blazed more than one trail, and did it with style.
Take care of your whole self and have an outstanding week!